Tagged Elizabeth Olsen

Haunted Memory in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene. 2011. Directed & Written by Sean Durkin.
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner, John Hawkes, Louisa Krause, Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Lauren Molina, Louisa Braden Johnson, Tobias Segal, & Gregg Burton. Fox Searchlight Pictures/Cunningham & Maybach Films/FilmHaven Entertainment/BorderLine Films/This Is That Productions.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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I’ve quickly come to enjoy Elizabeth Olsen’s talents as an actor. Each performance seems to bring something new. Bursting into feature film with the previous, and underrated, Silent House, her range is wide. She can play many parts, though, I believe her best has come from the subtle, quiet roles I’ve seen her in. Since 2011, she’s gone on to do some good stuff, and markedly bigger pictures. Although, I hope that she’ll soon be done with Avengers and get back to the smaller, indie-type stuff where she excels most.
Martha Marcy May Marlene gives Olsen the chance to dig into a meaty role, as the titular character, across her confused identities. In a story that mainly concerns the lingering effects of abusive cults, the misogyny of many of these so-called off-the-grid cults, many other issues alongside, the story takes on a highly personal tone as we venture into the psychological savagery of a woman who’s come out the other end of a physical, mental Hell. Director and writer Sean Durkin extracts the existential dread of the main character in an uncomfortable study of her personality as it shifts back to regular existence following what an enigmatic cult leader puts her through.
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Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) leaves her little commune one day to a restaurant. There, she manages to get ahold of her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), whom she hasn’t seen for a couple years. Eventually, Lucy picks Martha up and takes her back to the home where she lives with husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Having been away for so long, Martha has to readjust to life outside the cult commune where she’d been living with the oddly charming leader Patrick (John Hawkes), as well as other men like Watts (Brady Corbet).
However, coming back to the way life used to be is not so easy. At first, Martha has a hard time figuring out what life was before Patrick. And then, just as things might start to turn around, she makes the mistake of calling home, back to the commune, which puts her, as well as her sister and brother-in-law Ted in harm’s way. Or is it all paranoid delusion?
Nobody knows. Except Martha Marcy May Marlene.
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The normalization of odd behaviour is evident clearly while Martha tries to readjust to life on the outside, back in the regular world outside the strange cult in which she lived for those couple years. First, she strips bare and goes skinny dipping in the lake along with her sister’s husband Ted, out where anybody passing might see including kids. Later it’s obvious how used to asking for permission she’d become after being in the cult so long, she can’t even go for a swim without asking the only man present. Another moment sees Martha creeping into the dark of her sister’s room while she’s in there having sex with Ted, behaving as if it’s completely fine. Because she’s so used to have a shared man around the house that it’s completely okay to be in bed next to a couple making love. Every aspect of her life is permeated by the abusive, controlling nature of Patrick, whose cult has indoctrinated so many women into a misogynistic world view that only serves to hold them down.
Patrick is a misogynist. There’s no telling why or how he got to being that way. He’s simply and utterly misogynistic. One of those most poignant scenes, so brief and so quick where we get this illustrated boldly. As Martha – renamed Marcy in her new family – introduces Patrick to a new girl, Sarah, he greets them smiling. However, notice he quickly corrects Marcy: “Sally, yeah,” he says casually. It’s so sly and fast you’d almost miss it if you were sipping a drink. His intentions are clear almost all the way through, even if on the lowdown. He renames these girls to fit his wants and his needs. If he needs a Sally, then Sally this Sarah shall be. This is the least of his controlling nature. He uses each subsequent girl to get the next girl into his bed, as Marcy then stirs up new Sally’s drink, the same one she had before her first night in the arms of Patrick, along with a bit of special pills.
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What’s very interesting about the cult Patrick operates is the fact he doesn’t just manipulate the women; the men are also manipulated. Not as drastically and deviant in nature as what happens to the girls in the commune, but the men are certainly brainwashed, too. Watts – played by the always intriguing Brady Corbet – is a part of the entire system. Though he reaps the benefits of being there, including having sex with Martha, nothing happens that isn’t Patrick-approved. Even sex with Martha is done under the watchful eye of Patrick. So whereas the women are drugged, raped, converted to the church of Patrick, those young men are also programmed and attentive to Patrick’s needs. Their slavery to him is of a different sort, but slavery nonetheless. They enact all of what he requires, and in the process become nothing more than other assorted pawns in his overall game. More wheels in the cogs of his machinery. The women are his fuel, that which make him king in their commune, as well as that which drives him to such misogyny as is seen through all of his actions, both overt and less noticeable. The men are simply useful to keep that fuel flowing. Likewise the girls are part of that. Patrick doesn’t even go out on jobs at houses on the first night or two, he has the girls and boys led by Watts go out to set everything in motion. Proof of power and control over others, proof of his cowardice to boot.
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The cinematography is outstanding. Many of the shots cast everything in such a beautiful darkness. Others come in a radiant light. All those close, tight shots of Olsen capture her pensive qualities, the paranoia, the guilt, everything. On top of that, the sound design and score make things very subtle. There isn’t any music outside of incidental stuff, so the sound design covers those gaps with a bit of ambient noise here and there, as well as just the general sounds of the action, the voices, et cetera. Everything in this movie, from atmosphere to writing to acting, combines to make Martha Marcy May Marlene into an important character study of those brainwashed into cult-like thought, behaviour, living. Olsen’s Martha is a tragic and unsettling character whose tribulations under cult leader Patrick amount to some darkly emotional subject matter. Watching her transition back to real life, if that’s ever even possible for her, is sublime, in that it touches on some sore spots wondering how someone like Patrick could ever prey on the vulnerable types his commune attracts. The entire film is a solid dramatic thriller led by Olsen’s talents and rounded out with the calm, thoughtful direction of Durkin.

Elizabeth Olsen Braves the Silent House

Silent House. 2011. Directed by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau. Screenplay by Lau; based on the original screenplay by Oscar Estévez for the film La casa muda.
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, & Haley Murphy. Elle Driver/Tazora Films.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
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Always a sucker for films that attempt to work outside the box, in any degree, the original version of this American remake, La casa muda, was pretty damn good. Seeing a film of this nature with sly editing making everything look like one long shot is ambitious, especially considering it works to great effect. When I heard the remake was coming I didn’t feel too confident it’d turn out near as good. However, with directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (the latter also adapting the screenplay) planning on replicating the real-time feel of the original, there came further hope. It isn’t simply a gimmick. What this technique does is pull the viewer into the perspective of the lead character, Sarah, so that as she turns a corner we’re not exactly sure, like her, if something terrifying lies around it. Further than that, the way this interrupted take technique presents itself lends to the story, as a lot of the time you’re busy following Sarah – too busy to try and suss out what’s really going on. Not to say this is a brilliant twist, nor is it unique or original. But as a smart viewer, I like to believe I’m able to sometimes get ahead of the plot. Here, I felt mostly too concerned with riding next to Sarah in the almost P.O.V style filming. With eerie sound design, a dreamy and almost nightmarish feel, Elizabeth Olsen does her part by nailing the lead role and keeping us fettered to terror, as her character navigates the shadowy, silent house.
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Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) heads out to the lakeside summer house she spent time in as a little girl. She and her father, John (Adam Trese), are packing the place up, as it’s about to be sold. They pack up boxes, throw things together, and try to get all the last minute chores finished up. Soon, they’ve got John’s brother Pete (Eric Sheffer Stevens) there to help, although the two brothers don’t exactly always get along. Later on, Sarah runs into a girl named Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) who says they knew each other once upon a time; at first Sarah doesn’t remember, then says she does but her memory is just a little spotty.
The longer they stay at the house by the lake, Sarah begins to start seeing people lurking in the darkness. When Pete leaves, things get worse. Eventually, John is found bleeding, unconscious, and Sarah sees more people, hears them, including a little girl standing by the road outside. The situation spirals into madness. When Pete comes back he finds Sarah delirious. But as he investigates the house it becomes clear there is something definitely sinister in the making.
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Cinematographer Igor Martinovic (D.P on House of Cards, as well as some great documentaries such as The Tillman Story and Man on Wire) gives us a frenetic style almost akin to the found footage genre, but there are also times where the camerawork creeps along with Sarah, as it puts us directly in her perspective. So the balance between nice steady frames and the more bumpy handheld style is pretty good. Because we get that feel of being right alongside Sarah yet there’s also that chaos together with it, and it works to make things unsettling. The lighting is really spectacular here, too. Seeing as how the film is sort of experimental, in that it’s made to look like an entirely uninterrupted take (edited keenly for that effect), I’m amazed they were able to work the lighting out at all. Let alone make things look so dark and gloomy. At a certain point, it feels as if we’re in a dream and floating along through the darkness in the halls of this house, lost and bewildered just as much as Sarah herself.
Adding to the suspense and tension of the cinematography is the sound design, courtesy of Glenn To. Morgan, whose work spans everything from 9&1/2 Weeks to The Crow to Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Without a score, Silent House manages to wrap itself around you using ambient rumbles, the pulse and swell of noise, combined with all the regular noises of a house amplified due to the near constant silence – doors closing, floorboards underneath the feet, and so on transform into near characters themselves at certain points in time. Whenever a production is able to create such an all around atmosphere of dread by both its use of visuals and also the overall sound design, there’s a good chance I’m at least going to be affected a slight bit. What happens in Silent House completely unnerves me, from the top on down.
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In a film where there’s basically only one performance that matters, Elizabeth Olsen brings a theatrical sort of quality to the character of Sarah. Apparently the directors wanted someone with a stage presence, as the demands of long takes and so much focus on Sarah at all times (she’s in every last scene) required that type of disposition. Honestly, no matter how you ultimately feel about this movie as a whole, you’ve got to admit Olsen gives a quality performance. If a lesser actor were in her place it may not have even held my focus for its sparse 86-minute runtime. With only a couple other people in the film, the central cast itself only consisting of three people, Silent House is totally minimalist, and Olsen carries so much of the film’s weight by immersing us into Sarah’s perspective. Especially once the plot details are revealed and the nasty details come out, Olsen depicts the realization of Sarah, the pieces fitting into place in her mind so perfectly; it’s a mix somewhere between astonishment and confusion. But the best of her performance is that she really does not let on anything to the viewer, so that the first time around when you watch this it’s easy to get blindsided with the truth, just as Sarah ends up. Part of that is the writing, as well. Most of it, though, is Olsen. She deserves better recognition, this could’ve turned out terribly misguided were she not cast.
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Never afraid of being in the realm of unpopular opinion, Silent House is a 4-star affair. While I try not to be too hard on remakes for no reason, often they never reach the excellence of their original versions. La casa muda was great; so is the remake. Olsen gives herself over to the role wholly. Backing her is a bunch of solid camerawork, as well as the fact it’s edited smoothly to feel like one single take throughout the entire film. The movie is quick, dreamy, disturbing. I can’t spoil any of the plot further than what I’ve said because this finale really ought to be seen without knowing anything; like many films. But the impact of the plot’s conclusions here are part of what makes everything worth it, part of why the whole affected me. Moreover, this one deserves a second watch after you’ve seen what happens, as there are plenty of opportunities to pick out foreshadowing moments, brief pieces that lay out the way forward. Give this its chance and perhaps you’ll be unsettled, if that’s what you’re looking for like me.

Avengers: Age of Ultron & Style Over Substance

Avengers: Age of Ultron. 2015. Directed & Written by Joss Whedon; based on the Marvel comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgård, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, and Stan Lee. Marvel Studios. Rated PG. 141 minutes. Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

★★
Avengers_AOU_PosterI’ll start off by saying, for those might doubt my allegiance, when I was growing up I absolutely loved comics. For me, I was always a huge X-Men fan, not particularly a lover of The Avengers. But still, I’ve always been into comics and lots of the characters. Even Thor himself I’ve enjoyed, just never been big on Iron Man/Tony Stark or The Avengers team. Separately from the group, as individuals I do like a lot of the characters. For instance, I think the concepts behind both Hulk and Captain American SO INTERESTING – for Hulk it’s this incredible duality between man and the beast within, ever since Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this has been explored and I think in the comics this pans out to something even more fun; in Cap’s case, I think that idea of the “perfect American”, that ultimate patriot, is another compelling idea because it entails everything we want to believe in soldiers, that we want them to be this perfect warrior and patriot yet underneath they are STILL human, just like Steve Rogers underneath all the Captain America experimentation.
So when I say that I’m not really huge on either of The Avengers films, maybe you can chalk that up to me not being a fan of them in general. However, I can absolutely admit when there’s a good film, whether or not I’m into the source material.
For me, I just don’t get enough heart. Not saying there’s no emotion, not at all; there is plenty. What I mean is that there feels like, beneath the CGI and the star powered cast, there is ultimately nothing much going on. While the action sequences are wild, the inner headspace of some characters get explored, but in the end there’s nothing hugely impressive to me which puts this above any other blockbuster in the summertime.
maxresdefaultAvengers: Age of Ultron has a lot going on. This is one of my first real problems with the film. When I first sat down to see this, I knew it would be long, but when I learned it was near two and a half hours the urge to leave struck. But I’m not afraid of a long movie, there are plenty of films I enjoy that run well past two hours (The Deer HunterApocalypse Now, & those are just the classic ones). It’s just that, personally I can’t see how a near two and a half hour movie is necessary. Sure, there are lots of characters in here – The Avengers alone are too many to flesh out in a regular length film – but is there really any need for such length?
There’s a great part to this movie, which is that we get to see more of who The Avengers themselves are, as individuals. That’s something I do love because like I said in the beginning, it’s most the characters individually I like rather than the team as a whole.
And still, I think there could’ve been about 20 minutes yanked out of this screenplay without really hurting any of the character development, or the plot for that matter. I get it – there’s tension between the team, between certain members, even within themselves. There’s just no world in which I can see myself agreeing with the need for a two and a half hour Marvel movie. The complexity is there to work with, no doubt. Not enough to justify the length, though.
avengers-age-of-ultron-3-1940x809My other big beef with these Marvel movies, this one especially seeing as how I’ve watched it recently, is the fact everything is so drenched in CGI. I absolutely understand that a lot of what happens in these comic book stories WILL NEED CGI. Totally understandable. In opposition, even if you don’t like Christopher Nolan’s Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, you have to at least give Nolan the benefit of agreeing that he attempted to use practical effects wherever possible. Even with The Dark Knight, you actually get to see Bale as Batman on the edge of an insanely tall building, and other shots such as this; of course it’s not ALL practical, not even close, but there’s still effort to try and ground SOME of the movie in a tangible world.
With Age of Ultron, there’s scene after scene of CGI madness, over and over. In between there are wonderful little scenes between actors, just straight up good writing/dialogue and story. Most of the time, however, Joss Whedon is just giving us a CGI show, everything is green-screened and any real, visceral emotion simply gets taken out of it. I think there’s definitely enough on the brainy sides of things – love the plot of this story Whedon gives us out of the comics – but to go with that there’s nothing here drawing me in, making me feel those emotions Whedon injects into his script, nothing hooking me other than “Wow that looked cool” or “Robot James Spader is wild”, or “LOOK AT ALL THOSE BUILDINGS AND CARS AND OTHER THINGS GETTING SMASHED”, or “Ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser.”
I’m not saying I want the quote-unquote gritty version that everyone seems to crave after Nolan’s Batman. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of it all. Because in the end, so much of it is ultimately superheroes just flying around, beating each other up, with the tiniest bits of human drama and emotion peppered in for a scant flavour. That’s AWESOME if you’re a kid, or maybe if that’s your style – I don’t mean to knock you. For me, I need something more than Whedon and his Avengers seem capable of serving up.
maxresdefault avengers-age-of-ultron-hulkbusterWhile I don’t like this movie, not in the slightest really other than a casual admiration for the technical work and some of Joss Whedon’s screenplay, I’ll give it 2 out of 5 stars on those aspects alone. I cannot deny AT ALL that Age of Ultron is a technical marvel (see what I did there?). There’s a great deal of effort in so many areas which went into the making of this huge blockbuster film. I bet there are plenty, millions, of people out there who downright loved this! No doubt in my mind.
For me, and for others I’m sure, the amount of CGI smashing together and flashing all over the screen during most scenes throughout the enormously bloated runtime isn’t all that exciting. Visually there’s a feast of things to look at, but not a feast I’m starving for really. I like to see some interesting set pieces, costumes, effects as much as the next filmgoer. On the contrary, I like to see practical effects, and above all I like an emotional story that can entertain you with a bit of thoughtfulness while also sucking you into its intensity. Age of Ultron is, for me, too big and bright and it has no solid core. There are a TON of amazing actors here – I’m particularly a big fan of Mark Ruffalo and Paul Bettany – I just don’t think there’s enough time individually for any of them to make a real impressive impact.
age-of-ultronSee it and judge for yourself. I’m no one to listen to, surely. Objectively, I can’t agree that this is a great film. It’s mediocre at best, served up as near to the lowest common denominator of movies – a mindless bit of action. But whereas some action films get into you viscerally, put you right in the seat of the heroes matching up against the villains, there’s none of that here, in my opinion. Joss Whedon is a good writer and director, I’d rather see him take something else on other than his childhood love for comics. Might be great for some. Me? I’m worn out. As a lover of comics when I grew up, it’s still too saturated a market for me nowadays when it comes to superheroes, and it’s all the same as this: big, loud, flashing bright, but only to mask there’s nothing other than that to offer. Even further there’s the fact the Marvel movies always end the same way – heroes win, bad guys lose, another day they’ll find more bad guys to fight. You know from the get everyone will be alive at the end, no lives will be lost. Starting to get tedious, if you ask me. Maybe if the next Marvel film opts to kill off a big character, not for novelty but for a well-written reason in Whedon’s screenplay, then I’d be more inclined to take it in (this one doesn’t count because the ‘big’ character who dies in this one isn’t around long enough for me to or anyone to really care about).
Otherwise, it’s the same routine, over and over, where you don’t really have to ever worry because your favourites will ALL BE SAFE AND SOUND. No tears.